They had to repel a late Gabriel Rangers fightback, but Knocknagree emerged victorious in Saturday night’s Cork IFC final at Páirc Uí Rinn.
When Anthony O’Connor struck for a goal for the Duhallow side in the 52nd minute, they led their West Cork opponents by 2-10 to 0-7, but they wouldn’t score again and Gabriels came storming down the home stretch.
After points from Chris Moynihan and Seán Kelleher, they cut the gap to four points, Eddie Goggin scored a fine goal and two Kelleher frees left two in it with the game deep in injury time.
However, they couldn’t fashion a chance of a winning score and Knocknagree held out for the win - and the title. For that, they will be very thankful to goalkeeper Patrick Doyle, who saved a penalty in each half.
The custodian was one of six players to have featured for Duhallow in last year’s senior final loss to Nemo Rangers and manager John Fintan Daly paid tribute to their powers of recovery.
“There were ten involved with the Duhallow squad,” he said.
“My own boy John Fintan came into the game tonight – I can say it now that it’s over – he had a virus during the week, we didn’t know if he could play and if he hadn’t I don’t know if we’d have won. We also had Matthew Dilworth and Damien Browne, our sub goalkeeper, is also the Duhallow sub goalkeeper.
“It does upset your preparation but I have always been a great lover and supporter of Duhallow, I coached the team for 13 years so I want them to play at the highest level.
“This is more than a consolation. We won a county championship two years ago, we won a Munster, we won an All-Ireland. We have been promoted three times successively in the league – junior county, we won that, Division 5, Division 4 this year. Now we’re in Division 3, with an average age of 22 and a half, 40 guys training, it’s upwards from here.”
All the more pleasing for Daly was the fact that they won using an attractive playing style.
“Overall, what I love about this is that we’ve put the ‘foot’ back into ‘football’,” he said.
“We move it from one to the other very quickly and the players love it rather than this short-passing football in a phonebox, which I hate.”
After a slow start in which they trailed by 0-4 to 0-2, Knocknagree edged 0-5 to 0-4 ahead by the 25th minute, when Gabriels corner-forward Jordy O’Brien was fouled for a penalty.
Mark Cronin stepped up for the West Cork side but Doyle dived low to his left to keep the ball out. An Anthony O’Connor free extended Knocknagree’s advantage and then, in injury time, Fintan O’Connor set up Cork star Eoghan McSweeney for a goal.
Another Anthony O’Connor free ensured a 1-7 to 0-4 half-time advantage, but Gabriels’ Chris Moynihan had the first point of the second half and the Ballydehob/Schull side won another penalty when Eddie Goggin was fouled. He took the resultant kick, firing it to the keeper’s right, but once more Doyle came to his side’s rescue.
John F Daly, McSweeney and Anthony O’Connor extended the lead, interrupted only by a fine Jordy O’Brien effort from a tight angle for Gabriels. Fintan O’Connor might have made the game safe on the three-quarter mark – his effort saved by Darren O’Mahony – but Knocknagree didn’t have too long to wait for a second goal, Anthony O’Connor conjuring it in the 52nd minute after racing in from the left.
That looked to be that, but Gabriels ensured that it was a nervy finish. Daly wasn’t surprised, though.
“There’s a history between these two teams,” he said. “Three years ago in the championship, they beat us and earlier this year they ran us close down in their place. In the last three years, we’ve grown as a team.
“I suppose it’s a bit like Dublin in the summer, we weren’t getting contests – not our fault – and the question was going to be asked, how would we react when the pressure came on? We have a goalkeeper that has his critics, he’s only 22, he saved two penalties tonight.
“We beat a very good team that really asked every question that was available tonight and it’s great to win in that situation.”
Scorers for Knocknagree: O’Connor 1-6 (0-5 frees), E McSweeney 1-3, JF Daly 0-1.
Scorers for Gabriel Rangers: S Kelleher 0-5 (0-2 frees, 0-1 45), E Goggin (0A-1 free), C Moynihan 0-2, J O’Brien 0-1.
KNOCKNAGREE: P Doyle; D O’Mahony, M Doyle, G O’Connor; D Cooper, K Buckley, M Mahoney; P Collins, D Moynihan; M Dilworth, E McSweeney, F O’Connor; D O’Connor, JF Daly, A O’Connor.
Subs: J Dennehy for D O’Connor (33), D O’Connor for Moynihan (52), G Looney for Dilworth (58).
GABRIEL RANGERS: D O’Mahony; L Hegarty, D Roycroft, K O’Callaghan; D McSweeney, G O’Callaghan, R Moynihan; S Walden, S Kelleher; C Moynihan, P Nolan, F Hurley; M Cronin, E Goggin, J O’Brien.
Subs: K Roycroft for Nolan (37), J Donegan for D Roycroft (48), R Hurley for F Hurley (49).
Referee: C Dineen (Douglas).